Volleyball Selected to Compete in NCAA Championship Tourney
Issue   |   Wed, 11/11/2015 - 00:26
Peter Connolly '18
Asha Walker '18 posted 10 digs in the Amherst victory over Connecticut College

Amherst College’s volleyball team traveled to Bowdoin this weekend to make its 17th consecutive NESCAC tournament appearance. On Friday the third-seeded Firedogs faced sixth-seeded Connecticut College in a rematch of Amherst’s NESCAC season opener in September. Amherst entered the tournament boasting the highest hitting percentage in the league, while Conn. College came in on a hot streak, having won 13 of their last 15 matches.

The first set was tight, with the two teams battling back and forth through 10 tie scores and four lead changes. The Camels jumped out to an early lead but the purple and white stayed in the game after trailing through the first 15 points. Three kills apiece credited to Lizzie Ahern ’16, Nicole Gould ’17 and Maggie Danner ’17, however, helped to lift the Firedogs to a hard-fought 26-24 victory in the first set.

After a shaky first set, the nerves were out and Amherst went on to dominate Conn. College in the next two sets, 25-12 and 25-15. Ahern and Danner led the charge, finishing with 12 and 11 kills, respectively, while seniors Katie Warshaw and Nicole Carter helped out on the defensive side with 17 and 12 digs, respectively. Carter also led both teams with 31 assists, and Hayes Honea ‘19 chipped in eight digs, while Marialexa Natsis ‘18 and Carter contributed two assisted blocks each.

Friday’s win advanced Amherst into the NESCAC semifinal match where they faced league rival and second-seed Williams. Amherst suffered one of their only three season losses to a tough Williams squad earlier in the year.

The purple and white jumped out to an early 9-4 lead over the Ephs before allowing four unanswered points to bring Williams back into the game. From there, eight tie scores and six lead changes ultimately came out in Williams’s favor, with the Ephs taking the set 25-21.

The Firedogs weren’t ready to roll over yet, however, and tey came back to fight through the longest set of the season. Williams held a six-point lead at 12-6 until the purple and white tied up the set and held the Ephs at bay, extending the set to 34-32 for an Amherst win thanks to late kills by Danner and Warshaw. Using their momentum from a huge second-set victory, the Firedogs took the third set by the largest margin of the match 25-21 led by dominating offensive performances from Natsis and Danner who impressed with four kills each.

With Amherst now holding a 2-1 set advantage, the two teams entered the critical fourth set, where the score was tight until Williams pulled ahead 19-16.

Amherst responded with back-to-back kills from Danner and Honea to pull within one before Williams came right back with a 4-0 run to take a 23-18 advantage. A kill by Danner and an assisted block by Ahern and Newby helped Amherst score the next three points to pull the purple and white to within 23-21, but a kill and a service ace allowed the Ephs force a deciding fifth set, taking the fourth 25-21.

Amherst looked as though they were ready to run away with the fifth and final set after pulling out to a 6-3 lead. After playing through seven more tie scores, an Amherst handling error and a Williams kill secured the match for the Ephs, sending them to the title match to compete against Bowdoin on Sunday afternoon.

Amherst enjoyed a wildly successful season, finishing at 22-4 with their only losses coming at the hands of Williams, Middlebury and Springfield. The Firedogs’ 2015 campaign began with seven straight wins and finished with winning 10 of their last 12.

These impressive accomplishments in a tough NESCAC league gave Amherst help to grant the firedogs an at-large birth, which sends them to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.

“We’re all of course extremely excited to have another opportunity to play together and prove what we can do,” Asha Walker ’18 said. “It’s nice to have our hard work recognized and be able to compete at a national level, especially for our senior class. They’ve had great careers and we’re all grateful to be able to have the chance to share the court with them at least one more time.”

The tournament is set to take place next week, with the first round of games being played on Nov. 13. The Firedogs will travel to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for their first round of play in a first-round matchup against Johnson & Wales University.
The purple and white faced Johson & Wales in a regular season match up at the Wildcast Invitational. The firedogs took the game easily, 3-1. Danner and Natsis led Amherst offensively in that regular season contest while Warshaw, Kelci Keeno ’17 and Honea proved to be the difference makers on the defensive front.

Should Amherst defeat Johnson & Wales they’ll continue on to face the winner of MIT versus Regis. That second round game will be played on Saturday, Nov. 14 beginning at 5 p.m.

Tip-off for first-round action on Friday is set for 5:30 p.m.